She’s not done! Beer brewer bounces back with UK deal

When government dealt her a bad hand through alcohol bans, beer brewer Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela refocused on brand building. "I needed to keep the brand going and prove to myself and the powers that be that this was initially not a mistake"

Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela had to close her beer brewery last year as a result of the Covid-19-related bans on alcohol sales. But she's making a strong comeback. Photo: Supplied/Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela

Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela had to close her beer brewery last year as a result of the Covid-19-related bans on alcohol sales. But she's making a strong comeback. Photo: Supplied/Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela

Through months of blanket bans on alcohol sales she watched her once booming business dwindle. Now South Africa’s first black female beer brewer, Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, is making a strong comeback.

Starting this month, 200 000 cans of Nxusani-Mawela’s Tolokazi Sorghum Pilsner will be distributed throughout the UK to 100 000 people as part of Beer52’s mixed case for members.

Beer52 is a craft beer discovery club that offers a monthly subscription and a selection of brews from microbreweries around the world.

After Nxusani-Mawela, the founder of Brewsters Craft, called it quits on her brewery in June 2021 when it became impossible for her to continue with production, the industry trailblazer kept working hard on brand awareness, then started contract-brewing Tolokazi Craft Beer.

UK beer lovers in for a treat

An ecstatic Nxusani-Mawela, whose career spans well over a decade, tells Food For Mzansi that she could not believe it when the opportunity came knocking.

“It means that 100 000 people in Europe are going to be exposed to my beer and brand. For me, doors are opening up and I don’t know where they are going to lead. I hope that something bigger will come out of it.”

Nxusani-Mawela recalls being approached by the co-founder of Beer52, James Taylor, on LinkedIn in June 2021. Taylor wanted to distribute and share her pilsner with beer lovers in the UK. A meeting was subsequently set up and the rest, as they say, is history.

“At first I was like, ‘Is this real or just a scam?’ But I researched the company and everything checked out. Also, it was not the first time that they featured a South Africa brand,” says Nxusani-Mawela.

Tolokazi Sorghum Pilsner is now available in the UK. Photo: Supplied/Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela

The beer will be produced and bottled in Croatia because shipping the beer from South Africa would have been a costly exercise.

Because Nxusani-Mawela makes use of proudly South African ingredients, it was difficult to source the right hops. Her original recipe also makes use of sorghum malt and SAB malt, but shipping these ingredients proved costly. As a result, they had to looked at substitutes.

Nxusani-Mawela and Beer52 agreed that both the hops and malt would be sourced from a local supplier in the UK.

Hitting rock bottom

Taylor says Beer52 is excited to have Nxusani-Mawela’s Tolokazi craft beer in the UK.

“We first read about Apiwe during the South African lockdown alcohol ban, which was putting huge strain on some very talented and forward-thinking brewers.

“Fast-forward six months and Beer52 will be sharing Tolokazi beer with 100 000 people and shining a spotlight on a person fighting for representation, diversity and quality on South Africa’s brewery scene,” Taylor says.

But despite the good outcome, the road there was far from easy.

In an exclusive interview with Food For Mzansi, the master brewer recalls how 2021 started on a bad note for her. She tried her best to push forward as an agripreneur but, unfortunately, the alcohol bans enforced by government were simply too severe.

“February and March were the months I really pushed. I kept telling myself this can’t fail. What about what we have started here? The clients and the learners…

Brewsters Craft was founded in 2015 and Tolokazi Sorghum Pilsner was created shortly thereafter. Photo: Supplied/Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela

“I’ve been focusing on my brand and ensuring that I secure markets, introducing it to new spaces. I needed to keep the brand going and prove to myself and the powers that be that this was initially not a mistake,” she says.

Nxusani-Mawela decided to view her business closing down in a positive light.

“My brewery closing down might just have been the best thing that happened to me because now it has allowed all these other things to happen. And I don’t know what else is coming.

“When bad things happen, sometimes it might be God’s way of redirecting your life.”

ALSO READ: Lockdown blues: SA’s first black female brewster quits

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